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More Expectant Moms Want An Alternative Birthing Experience. Hospitals Are Listening.

Julie Quandt and her son Noah, who was born in August at the birthing suites at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. (Photo by Deb Franko, courtesy of Mission Hospital).
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Julie Quandt gave birth to her first two children in a hospital. She had an epidural during each delivery. Even though she didn't feel any pain, she said she felt a little bit off.

"I was having itching and I was stuck in the bed," she said. "I had no power whatsoever so it was just really difficult."

Quandt isn't alone; 99 percent of California moms gave birth in a traditional hospital setting in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The remainder delivered their babies at home or in a freestanding birthing center that doesn't have doctors or pain medication.

Still, hospitals say they're hearing from more women who want to have an alternative birthing experience, one that doesn't force them to labor in a sterile hospital room.

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One of these options is in Orange County.


"The Birth Center" at Mission Viejo's Mission Hospital just opened this summer. It's made up of three large suites that are unlike typical labor and delivery rooms. Instead of a small twin bed with machines nearby, each room has a queen-sized bed, large windows where the sun pours in, and no visible medical equipment. The machines are kept outside the rooms and are only brought in if needed.

The hospital really wanted to create a calming atmosphere, said Sue Jacobson, who runs the birth center.

"We have a spa-like environment with flameless candles and aromatherapy," she said. Mission even has a clinical aromatherapist on staff who helps expectant moms choose the fragrances for their rooms. A certain smell could cause a headache for one mom and throw off the whole birthing experience, Jacobson said.

Doctors don't handle the deliveries in Mission's birth center. Instead, certified nurse midwives are in charge. They have a masters in nursing and an extra two years of midwifery training.

If anything goes wrong -- the baby gets stuck in the birthing canal, the umbilical cord wraps around the baby's neck, the mom becomes too tired to push -- a unit that's equipped to handle any emergency (including those requiring surgery) is only 12 feet away.

"There's a physician that's on premises on this unit, 24 hours, seven days a week, that could intervene and come in," said Jacobson.


A California Healthcare Foundation study released last week found growing interest in alternative birthing experiences. The study surveyed women who gave birth first in a hospital; when asked about future pregnancies, 40 percent said they'd consider a freestanding birth center and 22 percent said they would explore home birth.

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Hospitals in California, including UCLA's medical centers, are listening to these moms, said Debbie Suda, director of the perinatal unit at UCLA Health.

"We've heard from women's voices throughout the community and throughout the nation asking for this different type of delivery," she said. "So hospitals responded by taking those single maternity rooms and building them to look like bedrooms or living rooms."


When Julie Quandt made the choice to have her third baby, Noah, at Mission Hospital's birth center, she got exactly what she wanted. Dim lights, aromatherapy, and more importantly, no epidural.

"You know you can choose to have it without pain but then having the pain and really going through the whole experience was amazing," Quandt said. "I felt like I was really with it."

The stock photo associated with this post, which appears on social media and elsewhere, is by Bri Stoterau/Flickr Creative Commons.

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